PETER LIEBERSON: Piano Concerto No. 3; Viola Con. – Steven Beck, p./Roberto Diaz, viola/Odense Sym. Orch./Scott Yoo – Bridge 941, 55:53 [Distr. by Albany] (6/03/14) ****:

I first became familiar with the music of Peter Lieberson with a Boston Symphony and Ozawa release of his Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1992. I immediately felt that his work was attention-getting and rather bold with a style that held drama and – while not wholly “melodic” – could speak to a wide audience.

Part of what had influenced Lieberson the better part of his adult life was his connection to Buddhism. There is certainly an introspective quality to his work that seems to be true, especially of his later works. Lieberson died of leukemia in 2011 and was, indeed, wrestling with the loss of his well-known second wife and inspiration; acclaimed soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. In fact, most of the composer’s best known and – to me – highest quality works were his vocal scores, some of which were written for her.

I vacillate a little bit with Lieberson’s output and where I rank him in the latter twentieth century milieu. I do think he wrote some truly amazing works; my favorite of which is his Neruda Songs.

The works represented here make up volume three in an ongoing “Music of Peter Lieberson” series from Bridge and kudos to them for doing so. I anxiously await another work, that I only heard on the radio many years ago; the Concerto for Cello with Accompanying Trios. The two pieces here are well worth getting to know.

The Piano Concerto No. 3 dates from 2003 and is a big, dramatic work that showcases the soloist (in this case, the very fine Steven Beck) quite well. My favorite movement I must say was the opening “Leviathan” that lives up to its name in its sprawling and somewhat dark nature. In actuality, each movement is taken from a literary reference. The opening “Leviathan” is the title of a poem by Neruda, the second movement “Canticle” is from the prayer “Canticle of the Sun” by Francis of Assisi and the closing “Rondo” is inspired by “Dog Creek Mainline” by Charles Wright. I did like the whole work but especially that opening.

The Viola Concerto, written in 1992, came right after Lieberson’s vocal “theater” work, King Gesar, which I am not too big a fan of, I’m afraid. The Viola Concerto is, for me, one of Lieberson’s best works. I agree with what other writers have said in its resemblance to Walton. There is, throughout, an immediate likability to this piece. It gives the soloist plenty of technical challenges to be sure, which soloist Roberto Diaz is quite up for. As in the third Piano Concerto, Lieberson tends to write long, rhapsodic opening movements that I am partial to. Such is the case here too with this Viola Concerto; already a fairly substantial piece and one that I think violists would welcome.

As mentioned, Peter Lieberson was one of those composers who did not became as “renowned” as some of his same generation counterparts. I do think some of his work is a bit more “solid” than others but he is definitely one of our best twentieth century talents and thanks to Bridge for allowing us to hear more.

—Daniel Coombs